Mark McGwire was an impressive power hitter, but his accomplishments have been tainted by his PED use. Which stats should we trust?
Mark McGwire began his Oakland A’s career with a bang. Considered to be an excellent power hitting prospect, he showed signs of what he could be during a 58 plate appearance trial in 1986. Given a full time role the following year, McGwire exploded onto the baseball map, belting a then rookie record 49 homers to lead the American League. He was an All Star, won the Rookie of the Year, and finished sixth in the MVP vote that year.
McGwire continued to hit for power, but his batting average began to plummet. After hitting .289 as a rookie, McGwire’s batting average dropped to .201 in 1991. After a resurgence in 1992, McGwire was bitten hard by the injury bug, appearing in a total of 74 games over the next two seasons.
When he returned, he was the slugger that everyone has come to know. McGwire was hitting for power and average, becoming one of the most feared hitters in the game. From 1996 through 1999, he led the majors in homers, belting over 50 home runs in each season. When he was traded from the A’s to the Cardinals in 1997, McGwire’s 58 homers led the majors, although he did not lead either league.
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However, in retrospect, one has to question how much of that production came without chemical enhancement. McGwire’s numbers with the Cardinals are certainly tainted, but what about his production in Oakland?
In his 12 years with the A’s, McGwire produced a .260/.380/.551 batting line, hitting 363 homers. When he admitted to taking steroids and human growth hormone, McGwire said he did so to get back on the diamond and overcome his injuries, to prove that he was worth his contract. He also stated that he did not feel they helped his ability to hit homers, but that’s a questionable statement.
Based on McGwire’s desire to come back from injuries, that would put the timetable of his PED usage to be after the 1994 season. That would coincide with his sudden resurgence as one of the most feared sluggers in the game, putting everything from that point on in question.
The first part of McGwire’s career was solid enough. From 1986 through 1994, he produced a .250/.362/.507 batting line, hitting 238 homers. His 143 OPS+ was still one of the top marks in the game. But injuries had definitely taken a toll, as he just was not the same type of hitter when he was on the diamond.
At this point, it is probably reasonable to trust the numbers that Mark McGwire posted in his first nine seasons with the Oakland A’s. Anything after that appears to be suspect.